An island in a sea of sound – Chris Watson’s Nature Disco

Chris Watson at Branchage Festival, Jersey

Earlier this year, world-leading wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson staged a wonderful nature disco on the island of Jersey.

For just over an hour, the audience were surrounded by the sounds of lions in the Masai Mara, limpets grazing in coastal rock pools and the haunting songs of humpback whales. We asked Chris to tell us about his inspiration for the event:

“My invitation to DJ a Wildlife Disco on the island of Jersey as part of the Branchage festival was a special opportunity for me to make my first visit.

As a wildlife sound recordist I’m fascinated by the sounds of islands around the world, and more recently the sounds that surround them. For some time I have been using hydrophones to record sounds in our seas, oceans, rivers and lakes, and it’s been a revelation. We sometimes imagine I think that we live on planet earth, and of course we don’t, we live on planet ocean.

More than 70% of the  world is occupied by the seas and oceans. Sound travels almost five times faster in seawater than through air. Our seas and oceans are not only the largest habitats on the planet, they are also the most sound rich of all our environments, yet relatively few of us get to listen.

I have no doubt that our music evolved, like our languages, from listening to and then mimicking the rhythms and sounds of the natural world. A relatively small island such as Jersey is cast in a vast sea of sound and it was the songs, rhythms and timbres within the waters which surround the island which I wanted to play at the Spiegeltent disco in Coronation Park.

I’m interested in recording spatial sound and then diffusing the results in a way which places the audience right in amongst a particular habitat or event and, being circular, the Spiegeltent was a perfect location.

We arranged an eight channel array of Bowers & Wilkins 686 speakers and four ASW610XP subs powered from an eight channel amp around the sides of the tent, which included and surrounded the audience. I was then able to introduce, segue and mix DJ style and with stunning clarity and realism, a range of oceanic songs and signals to envelope and engage the audience.

From the rock solid rhythms of limpets grazing in tidal pools, the hauntingly beautiful voices of Bearded Seals beneath the Arctic sea ice, to a depp and powerful chorus of Humpback whales singing in the Caribbean ocean the audience were transported from the shallows of their own shores to the most distant oceans and immersed in seas of sound.” Chris Watson

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